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A Snapshot Of The Spike In Inequality, As Seen From Dayton


Today, mayors from across the country, mostly Democrats, are speaking out about what they see as an alarming trend - a growing wage gap. At a meeting in New York, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released a new report on jobs and income inequality, prepared by the research firm IHS Global Insight. It finds that although the country has recovered the nearly nine million jobs lost in the recession, the jobs gained, on average, pay less - 23 percent less. We wanted to know what this means in one community, so we reached out to Nan Whaley. She's the mayor of Dayton, Ohio and she began by describing what sorts of jobs her region lost in the recession and how many.

MAYOR NAN WHALEY: We lost literally thousands and not only General Motors, but also Delphi, which was the supplier that provided parts to General Motors. We had around five of those plants in the region. And they were mostly manufacturing plants. And so Western Ohio - you know, we hear a lot about Detroit, but also in Western Ohio, we saw significant job loss through the recession.

BLOCK: And since then, what kinds of jobs have you seen coming back?

WHALEY: Well, we've seen some manufacturing jobs but not nearly the pace compared to logistics and warehouse jobs coming. So, you know, Dayton sits on the crossroads of I-70 and I-75. So we have Payless Shoe stores, for example. Trucks come in, move those supplies to get to the next place. And the same with Procter & Gamble and Caterpillar - we're seeing a lot of that kind of logistics, which honestly, it's a job-growth area for us. We did not have logistics in Dayton before. So it's been a success, but the wages are less. And so I think that just iterates what's going on across the country, right? The wage gap is there because what - the jobs that are being replaced from the jobs lost are just lower-wage level.

BLOCK: And if you're getting a manufacturing job now compared to the job you might've had before the recession, would it be paying on an adjusted scale? Would it be paying the same, better, worse?

WHALEY: The manufacturing jobs are still paying very well but the difference now is - and we talk a lot about this because manufacturing is still key in Ohio - it's not your father's factory. So it requires a further degree. And so these aren't jobs in manufacturing that you can just get coming out of high school. They require at least an associates or some sort of certification. And they pay well, but there's just not as many of them.

BLOCK: Mayor Whaley, you have been the mayor of Dayton since January, but you've lived there for 20 years now. How different does the city feel today compared with when you first got there?

WHALEY: Well, I think that cities like Dayton and cities across the country, we see just a - a vaporization of the middle class. You know, as my parents were able to have good paying jobs that were hourly instead of salary, but still able to put me and my brother through college - that dream is getting further and further away. And so we see that every day with people struggling, having to take more than one job on, really having to make some really tough decisions about their family. And I don't think Dayton is unique in any sense than other cities across the country with that issue.

BLOCK: The city commission in Dayton, I gather, has passed a resolution that would support federal legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. How do you balance getting a better wage for workers with putting too large a burden on employers - making the climate business unfriendly?

WHALEY: Well, I think that study after study has shown that if you raise the minimum wage to $10.10 that, you know, it actually creates opportunity and creates more jobs. And that's what we're trying to do. And frankly, it's right when you think about that most of the people receiving minimum wage are women and the burden of women today on taking care of their family in addition to having this really low pay. The minimum wage does not equal a wage that you can take care of yourself, much less anyone else. And so we have to be real about what's going on in our communities by saying that that minimum wage is a real fair bottom because frankly, it's not.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Nan Whaley. She is the mayor of Dayton, Ohio and a Democrat. Mayor Whaley, thanks for being with us.

WHALEY: Thanks. It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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